Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Heaven and the Christ Who Reigns There: A New Year’s Reflection on COVID Regulations and Social Justice

clouds dark dramatic heaven

As we prepare to welcome 2021 this week, this post is meant to consider how the largely unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have impacted us, especially the church and its pastors. May the Lord give us wisdom to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and courage to say so.

At the time of America’s founding, heterodox pastors attacked the doctrine of hell, while many of the Founders appreciated religion for its earthly and civic benefits. A century later, theological liberals exchanged the reality of heaven for the earthly message of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. In the last century, prosperity preachers have promised heaven on earth, while many pragmatic pastors have made earthly success as important as—and often more important than—entrance into heaven.

Looking from the past to the present, it shouldn’t surprise us that the message of heaven has been threatened. Going back to Eden, there have always been those who have doubted God’s judgment and misjudged God’s eternal gospel. Movements like the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and liberation theology have, in various ways, exchanged the glories of heaven for “Christian” messages that focus on the here and now. And always, when heaven is lost, the lost suffer.

Today, we are seeing a de-emphasis on heaven in a new way. Unlike theological liberals who might affirm universalism where everyone goes to heaven or deny the reality of hell, some evangelicals are mis-stepping with heaven on the basis of their ministerial focus. Without abandoning their orthodox confessions, Bible-believing churches are veiling heaven by focusing their attention on matters related to earth.

In 2020, you don’t have to be a “liberal” to downplay heaven in your daily living. You don’t have to preach a message of prosperity to illicitly transport heavenly blessings to earth. You don’t even have to deny Scripture to lose the heavenly mission of the church. In fact, you can hold firmly to the faith and lose heaven by doing nothing at all. The cultural winds of 2020 are that strong! Here’s what I’m getting at: Unless you realize how the events of this year are causing pastors and churches to focus almost exclusively on earthly matters, you will lose heaven—if not its doctrine, than its declaration.[1]

In what follows, I will highlight two cultural winds that are blowing Christians off course. Instead of preaching the glories of heaven and discipling the nations to obey all the Lord of heaven has commanded, churches are being tempted to give all their attention to (1) COVID regulations and (2) social justice. As a result heaven is assumed and not asserted. My argument, then, is that without Spirit-empowered effort, focus on these earthly concerns will cause us to mute the message of heaven. And if this is not corrected by faithful pastors, the reality of heaven—not just its emphasis—may soon be lost by some too. Continue reading

Gospel Saturation: The Third Mark of a Healthy Church Member

What does it mean to be Gospel-Saturated? 

That is what we considered on Sunday night — this post is a few days late — when we took another look at Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?  His third mark of a healthy church member is to be filled to overflowing with the gospel of Jesus Christ–that is, Gospel-Saturated. 

Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine which leads to debauchery [or dissipation] but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  If I had to take a guess at what gospel-saturation looked like, I would say that just as someone is under the influence of alcohol, gospel-saturation would look like someone who is visibly manifesting the fruit of the Spirit and boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ–after all, to be most “Spiritual” is to be most Christ-centered (cf John 16:13-14).  Consider the apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  

In thinking about growing in gospel-saturation, here are five suggestions to help you grow in your understanding and application of the gospel. 

1. Memorize the Gospel.   Obviously, your confidence in the gospel is only as good as your knowledge of it.  The best way to do this of course is to read the Bible, because from Genesis 3:15 to Revelation, the whole Bible is a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet, for a new Christian or one who has not spent a lot of time in the Bible, one of the best things you can do is memorize the turning points of the gospel– things like that God is the holy creator who made us for his glory, that all mankind is sinful and desrving punishment, that the sovereign plan of salvation has been in effect since the fall, and that Jesus Christ’s law-fulfilling life, substitionary death, and justifying resurrection and victorious ascension have secured salvation for all those who repent from sin and believe on Him.  This would be a start.

Here are a few other resources to help you memorize the key turning points of the gospel.  Select one and memorize it–and more importantly memorize the Scriptures contained in each–so that you can better know the gospel and share it with others.

2. Learn to summarize the Gospel in 30 Seconds.  Call this the Elevator Gospel.  If you were in an elevator, on the 95th floor of Sears Tower and the cable snapped, could you share the gospel in the 30 seconds you had before impending death?  Or for those twitteratis out there, could you tweet the gospel in 140 characters or less?  These guys did

Now hear me: THE POINT IS NOT TO SHRINK THE GOSPEL!!!  Or to think that the gospel can be distilled into less than the full canon of Scripture.  But, THE POINT IS to so imbibe and embrace the gospel that you are able to communicate it at any time, anywhere, to anyone.  The goal is to arm ourselves with the gospel so that we can preach to ourselves or witness to another, which leads us to our next two points.

3. Preach the Gospel to yourself.  The gospel does little good for others, when it is not first changing your life.  Because we sin repeatedly every moment of every day, we need to learn how to apply the gospel to ourselves.  To paraphrase Martyn LLoyd-Jones, we need to spend less time listening to ourselves, and more time preaching to ourselves.  This is the model of David in Psalm 103:1, where he commands his soul to bless the Lord (cf Psalm 42-43).  Yet, to do this we must fill our minds with heart-stirring gospel truths.  As you seek to preach the gospel to yourself, consider just a few verses to begin with: Psalm 103:1-5; Lamentations 3:21-26; Romans 5:1; 8:1; Galatians 2:16-21; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 1:9-2:2.  For more gospel-saturating verse suggestions, see Desiring God’s Fighter Verses.

4. Think about the Gospel.  This sounds simplistic and obvious, but really, how much time do you think about the gospel?  For you own sanctification, gospel meditation is necessary.  As you encounter sin, you must take time to see how the Cross of Jesus Christ is the singular, God-given means of forgiving your sin, cleansing your righteousness, and building up your faith.  See C.J. Mahaney’s book, The Cross-Centered Life, for more here.  At the same time, gospel-rumination prepares you for creatively sharing the gospel with others. 

What do I mean?  Well, I can remember the time that walking on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, coming back from a Campus Crusade evangelistic outreach, I was approached by a jewelry salesman offering som “mighty fine watches and rings.”   Like a dunce, I said no thanks and moved on.  I thought later, what if I had replied, “No, I am not interested in any of your jewelry, because I already have the pearl of greatest price!  Can I tell you about him?”  Now that would have been quite an evangelistic conversation starter, but because I wasn’t thinking that way I missed that opportunity.  So, we must learn to think (creatively) about the gospel, so that as we fill our minds with Scripture and meditate on the gospel, we will be more equipped for the next traveling salesman.

5. Order your life around the Gospel.  In What is a Healthy Church Member? (p. 43), Thabiti suggests that Christians should order their daily and weekly routines in such a way that they are constantly on the look out for gospel-sharing opportunities.  Whether at the grocery, Starbucks, the gym, the neighborhood park, or the local newstand–if those still exist– we should look for people with whom we can build relationships and share the good news of Jesus Christ.  In doing this, we are fulfilling the Great Commission and letting the Holy Spirit work in us to confirm the gospel we believe. 

Now, with these five suggestions in place, I can already hear some detractor saying that I have shrunk the gospel by advocating a 30 second, memorized list of verses.  Maybe.  But that is not my aim, so much as I am trying to think how we, as finite witnesses, can better know and make know the gospel.   In sum, I am simply trying to think through ways of practically applying the gospel to daily life.  I would love to hear how you do it, and how we can better become gospel-saturated Christians.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss